Posts tagged ‘Citizen Advocacy’

Understanding “Congressional Culture”

“Congressional culture” is comprised of a mix of youthful staff, optimistic freshman members, cynical reporters, seasoned members, and crusty senators. This can often result in a clash of both the old and new.

Oliver in a Too-Small Box
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mr. T in DC

In evaluating congressional culture, it is important to understand the working environment of Congress. That environment drives the work of Congress, and the work schedule can be harsh and brutal. The norm involves a 50 your work week. In the days leading up to a congressional recess, the work schedule can commonly increase to 60 or 70 hours per week. Even when Congress recesses and members return home to their districts, their days are often 10-hour work days filled with public events, constituent meetings, speeches and other types of district activities.

The environment for staffers is often extremely fast paced, but at the same time it can be quite mundane. Contrary to popular stereotype, offices on Capitol Hill are frequently cramped. In fact, quarters can be so cramped that work spaces are sometimes created in rooms that were once designed for storage purposes. Since 1979, the number of staff allotted to House members has not changed, even though the work load has increased dramatically.

In many ways, the House resembles a high school. The Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad Fitchfreshman legislators are all looking to make an impression while subcommittee chairmen seek out angles they can use to attain leadership levels. At the same time, senior members rule on the most crucial matters. Every member of the House is looking out for their own particular issue–one issue where they can become a subject matter expert, find an opportunity to introduce bills and become the source reporters look to about that issue.

The real work is often performed in congressional committees. This is where language and law are merged by elected officials. Three basic activities take place in committees; legislative hearings on bills, oversight of the executive branch, and the amending and voting on bills.

Developing an understanding of congressional culture can go a long way toward helping you better understand the ways in which Congress works and the best way to approach making changes for the improvement of Congress as a whole.

To learn more about the way Congress works, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1/2 day course, Congress in a Nutshell, and the 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Citizen’s Handbook, by Bradford Fitch, Chapter 2 Congressional Culture

Also see

For more information about working with Congress, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:

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New books from TheCapitol.Net and Two Seas Media

Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad Fitch
Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress – A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Bradford Fitch

Practical guidance how to prepare for and meet with elected officials and staff, how to write effective letters and emails to elected officials, strategies for influencing legislators face-to-face, best practices for communicating with Congress and state legislatures, and how to write persuasive “letters to the editor”. Includes the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Softcover, $11.95
ISBN 10: 1587331810
ISBN 13: 9781587331817

Ebook: $7.99
EISBN 13: 9781587332326

Available from your favorite bookseller.

More information, including Table of Contents, sample sections, and secure online ordering: CitizensHandbook.com.

Coming soon
A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal - Citizen's Guide to Legislative ReformA Two Seas Media book:
A Better Congress: Change the Rules, Change the Results: A Modest Proposal – Citizen’s Guide to Legislative Reform, by Joseph Gibson

A comprehensive look at the reasons that Congress does not work well and some real solutions that can make Congress work better.

Hardbound, $16.95
ISBN 10: 1587332337
ISBN 13: 978-1-58733-233-3

Softcover, $12.95
ISBN 10: 158733237X
ISBN 13: 978-1-58733-237-1

Ebook: $8.99
EISBN: 158733-236-1 9781587332364

More information, including Table of Contents, and secure online pre- ordering: ABetterCongress.com

Journalists and Bloggers: to request a review copy of either book, please use this form.

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